The Discovery of Radium

The Discovery of Radium

One of the central paradoxes of scientific research and technological development is that while every new discovery brings previously unknown possibilities to light, these discoveries can also have negative effects that may not be readily apparent. For example, certain medicines may provide exciting new treatment options, but it’s only later that their side effects come to light. One of the most glaring examples of this was the thalidomide scandal in the late 1950s, when thousands of women took this drug to combat morning sickness during pregnancy, and it was later…

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Starlite

Starlite

In the early 1990s, magazine articles and television shows in Great Britain and the United States ran a series of stories about an incredible new invention: a type of plastic that could withstand virtually any amount of heat. The material’s properties confounded scientists, but even more amazing was that its creator, Maurice Ward, had no academic credentials—he was, in fact, a former hairdresser from North Yorkshire, England. Ward saw a news story about how most of the deaths in an airplane accident had been caused by the toxic fumes from…

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Complaints Choirs

Complaints Choirs

The acoustics in my apartment are lousy. I have too many work deadlines. The dollar-to-euro exchange rate is depressing. It always rains when I want to go for a walk. It’s not hard to come up with things to complain about, but who wants to listen to someone else complain? The surprising answer: just about everyone, as long as the complaints are set to music and delivered in four-part harmony by a choral ensemble. In the past few years, musical groups called complaints choirs have sprung up all over the…

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